There are not that many jobs where one might be expected to perform a wedding ceremony, and making hair oil is not one of them. So it was unusual, to say the least, when John Jackson, of East Lothian, wound up in Oregon three years ago presiding over the nuptials of two American devotees of the Braw Beards line of products.

“It was bizarre when he asked me,” Mr Jackson said.

“The way it came about is that we have held our beard and moustache championships for several years, and in 2018 James, who was one of the competitors, proposed to Lorraine on stage, and the place erupted. It was a brilliant moment.

“Then in the Christmas [period] of 2018 I got a message from James saying they were going to get married in October 2019 and they’d love it if I could come across and perform the ceremony. So they paid for the flights, I got ordained and went across and did it.”

With annual turnover of approximately £120,000, Braw Beards sells oils, conditioners, shampoos and styling balms created expressly for the care of facial hair. About 90 per cent of its sales are to customers in the UK, but others stretch further afield to Iceland, America, New Zealand and Australia.

What began as an offshoot from a serious mountain biking accident is now a full-time occupation for Mr Jackson, who worked for many years as a graphic designer before setting up Braw Beards 10 years ago.

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Growing up in Macmerry, East Lothian, Mr Jackson began mountain biking with his family at an early age. He was training in 2011 for a downhill competition in Fort William when he was thrown over his handlebars and took the impact on the top of his head, breaking the C7 and P1 vertebrae that form the transition from neck to backbone. He went to hospital but as his injuries were stable fractures, surgery wasn’t required. Though told to wear a neck brace and stay off the bike for many months, he decided to ride in the competition two weeks later.

“It was sheer stupidity, but I’d been training for that race for a year so I ended up doing it,” Mr Jackson said.

“My whole plan was to do one lap and see how I felt. If I felt sore or felt like I was going to do more damage, then I would have stopped, but I guess the adrenaline kicked in.

“I finished 18th out of 133, I think it was. Then I took three or four months off the bike as the doctor suggested.”

It was during that period he started going to The Haven in Musselburgh, a clinic specialising in alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage and Chinese medicine. The treatments aided his rehabilitation, so he decided to join a sports massage course.

“I had been making the massage oils and passed the courses and I had lots of excess oils sitting about the house, so I started making hair oil for my wife,” Mr Jackson said. “She was using expensive hair oil, so I started mixing some, making it 100% natural, and it was working for her.”

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After tweaking the recipe to accommodate thicker, coarser hair, he started giving his oils to family and friends who “seemed to enjoy it as well”. A close acquaintance helped build a website, and in October 2012 Mr Jackson made his first bottle of what would become Wulver – named after a mythical Scottish werewolf – Braw Beards’ first commercial brand.

The business has been his sole occupation since 2018 when he gave up the day job in graphic design. Since then he has built up an online community known as “The Brawtherhood” and formed collaborations with notable individuals such as bodybuilding coach Calvin Gowland and Mikey Denus, lead guitarist for Welsh reggae metal band Skindred.

He also linked up with a music icon from his teenage years: “Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit got in touch at the end of 2013,” Mr Jackson said. “He had seen the Braw Beards brand on social media and became a fan, and we became friends, which is pretty cool.”

With the pandemic came the setbacks of supply chain disruptions, and a hiatus on plans to open Braw Beards’ first physical storefront.

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“My wife and myself spoke about trying to open a premises, then Covid hit, so that’s on the back burner at the moment,” he said. “But it would be good to have a shop with a barber in it, and maybe a tattoo space or something like that. But that’s plans for further down the line, maybe in five years.”

In the meantime Mr Jackson is looking forward to the return of the Braw Beard & Moustache Championships, which will take place next February in Glasgow for the first time since 2020.

This normally attracts about 300 people, including some 100 competitors from around the world including America, Norway, Germany and Austria. Mr Jackson hopes it will mark the beginning of bigger things to come.

“I have an office in Musselburgh with a workshop where we make our products, but I would like a warehouse and staff, and a bigger online presence as well,” he said. “I would also like to run more beard and moustache competitions, and more events, and just keep building up the community.”

 

Q&A

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

My family travelled to Sorrento in Italy for a wedding in April, which I loved. The people, food and culture were great. I would love to go back to immerse myself in Roman history. As a family we have a strong connection to the Isle of Man and especially the TT races. I make the trip across there twice a year, to visit family and watch the motorcycle racing. My wife and

I want to take our son to Trillium Lake in Oregon, where I performed the wedding ceremony (my wife was pregnant with him at the time). It is beautiful there.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I always wanted to be an aircraft pilot. It was fascinating watching aeroplanes in the sky and thinking someone is skilled enough to control it from the ground here to the ground in another country. Later, I became interested in art and graphic design. That is the path I followed from school.

What was your biggest break in business?

When Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit became a fan of the brand. He shared his love for the products on social media in 2014 and reached an audience I could not have imagined. Another moment was after the first Braw Beard and Moustache Championships in 2017. There was a lot of media coverage.

What was your worst moment in business?

My mother died in 2014. I lost all motivation and considered packing up Braw Beard, but she was a hard worker and her work ethic began to help me through and is still an inspiration now when times get hard. One of the most challenging times in business was during the Covid pandemic. The supply chain was disrupted, which had a knock-on effect over many months.

Who do you most admire and why?

My grandfather Alex Jackson. He was born in 1918 and died in 2014. He served in the Second World War from the beginning to the end. He was always there for family and showed a genuine interest in whatever we were doing. Every time I feel like I am having a hard day, I reflect on what he must have gone through to survive during those war years and my problems are no longer that big an issue.